Abstract: Understanding Anti-Asian Racism and Violence from an Asian American Social Worker Lens (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Understanding Anti-Asian Racism and Violence from an Asian American Social Worker Lens

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sophia Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Hawai`i, honolulu, HI
Clifford Bersamira, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI
Yeonjung Jane Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI
Background and Purpose:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been growing concerns and fear experienced across Asian communities in the U.S. as a result of the overt xenophobic sentiments and violent hate incidents targeting Asian Americans (AA). Various news sources have paid closer attention to these experiences, and the National Association of Social Work released a formal statement in February 2021 denouncing the anti-Asian bias crimes. As a helping profession, social workers have been in the frontline servicing communities during these challenging times. This calls to attention the perspectives and experiences of AA social workers. The dearth of literature: 1) focusing on social workers’ perspectives during heightened racist climates and 2) the empirical examination of AA social work experiences are scant and adds further rationale for this study. The purpose of our study is to explore ways AA social workers have been impacted by the Anti-Asian climate and identify the roles and actions needed by the social work profession in order to promote healing and wellbeing in Asian communities.


To explore the experiences and perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent Asian hate crimes among AA social workers, semi-structured interviews were conducted via Zoom with social workers in the U.S. who were aged 18+, trained in social work, and identified as Asian (n=17). Participants were recruited via online fliers, and an email sent through the local and national social work and Asian-population serving organizations. The interviews were conducted between August - December 2021. Transcribed interviews were qualitatively coded using an iterative, team-based approach. Using thematic analysis, overarching themes were identified through a predetermined codebook based on interview guide topics.


Several themes were identified through this study. AA social workers experienced recent anti-Asian sentiment and violence differently based on their geographic locations and level of connectedness to other AA professional colleagues, clients, and community, among other factors. Both personally and professionally, AA social workers responded to recent anti-Asian events in a variety of ways such as engaging in AA community-oriented education and advocacy. Notably, some participants described having to consider the physical safety and protection of self, their family members, and Asian clients and community, which was not necessarily a consideration prior to the pandemic. AA social workers recommended future efforts in the social work field to promote top-down advocacy and change in social work education and the social work profession to be more inclusive of Asian issues, more inclusive grassroots advocacy and change efforts that foster interracial/ethnic allyship and solidarity, and increased and consistent media coverage and visibility of AA issues.

Conclusion and Implications:

Incidents of anti-Asian hate and violence continue to take place and have negative consequences on the AA social workers and communities. Attention to and contributions to addressing this issue must not be the sole responsibility of the AA community. The results of this study hold implications for social work education and practice, a future research agenda, and policy change that can support AA social workers and communities.